March 31, 2013

It would seem that many of us lefty types have been paying a lot of attention to something called MMT – Modern Monetary Theory.  The central tenet of this school of thought, built on identities in sectoral balance accounting, is that a nation sovereign in its own currency, with a non-convertible currency and floating exchange rates, is not and can not be revenue-constrained.   Thus the “problem” of the debt and deficit is actually a “pseudo-problem, an accounting mirage.”

Ok, fair enough.  Now what?  MMT, in my humble opinion, spins its wheels trying to impress, cajole, plead, or beg for understanding.  “If only we could get the word out, and people would come around to the truth, and then we’d be free of Pete Peterson et al.”  Perhaps an open letter to the President-cum-Czar would be in order.  And yet, people just don’t get it.  Why, oh why, can’t they get it?

Two observations, if you will:

One: the powers that be will not “just get it” because the powers that be are intent on screwing us.  There is no problem with theory there – the problem is one of power, that is, who has it, who doesn’t, and what they’re doing with it.  That is, the Czar “gets it” – but the Czar is our enemy.  To supposed otherwise is to suppose that the White House, Congress, the Fed, the Counsel of Economic Advisors, etc., panoplied with advisors, academic chairs, economics PhDs, are all simply ignorant of basic sectoral balance accounting – something that in its broad overview can be taught to any reasonably bright twelve year old in an afternoon.  Such a supposition stretches credulity to the breaking point.  I agree on this point with a gentleman named Rodger Malcolm Mitchell, whose blog I encourage you to visit.

Two: what makes MMT compelling is not its theoretical basis.  That is, in terms of theory, its not really clear that MMT adds much that wasn’t already there, in more refined form, in (post) Keynesian economics.  Rather, MMT justifies its existence simply because it is readily noticed, and at the same time, its tenets are utterly incompatible with the dominant discourse in policy and economics.  That is: one cannot pay attention to MMT without accepting its rather uncontroversial premises (remember: it’s just accounting), but to accept those premises, one is compelled to recognize that we we’re told is true is in fact a monstrous lie.  But it is just there that MMT has not gotten up to speed.  The MMT propagandists still seem to want to believe in “innocent frauds” – that our superiors are simply laboring under misunderstandings, which misunderstandings presumably can be “cleared up” through education.  At what point, one asks, do we have to come to the realization that the beast actually wants to destroy us?  And once we make that recognition, then what is to be done?

But one gets tired.  We cannot read every book and blog, and cannot focus our every energy on cracking the code.  I thought I’d read through the MMT reading list, and then perhaps look more deeply at heterdox economics generally – the hard but important stuff, like the Cambridge capital debates.  Then I could claim some sort of authority in talking about economics, perhaps even say something clever about IS/LM.

But … why?  Why bother?  So I’m some sort of “expert amateur” – so what?  Who am I convincing of what, and to what effect?  If I’m to do my duty, then my lot is to make combat against the enemy, not cultivate my own “intellectual authority” (with scare quotes.)  And, in making combat, perhaps it would be more important for me to, say, learn Spanish than to, say, decide whether I’m a Kaleckian or Sraffian.

At the same time, perhaps I cannot do my duty. Perhaps I can be no more than a spectator at this point, watching from the cheap seats as this sordid show grinds on to its inevitable denouement. Again, I might as well spend my time doing something more enjoyable than figuring out exactly why and how microeconomics is crap. I could read the Portis miscellany that I bought at Christmas but haven’t read yet. I could get out in the yard or something. It is a lovely day.

The system uses our better natures to crush us

March 10, 2013

I’ve followed Naked Capitalism for a few years now, and it’s meant a lot to me and I recommend it highly, but my attendance has been rather desultory here of late.  Desultory, that’s the word: “lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.”  Ditto corrente, the MMT sites, the current Mark Ames/Yasha Levine/Dr. Dolan vehicle, et al.  Sometimes, I think I’m losing what fight I have in me.  I’m tired.

That said, Lambert Strether posted something today that had me thinking.  The post is semi-autobiographical, using personal history to touch upon the problem of  life and how to live it, and particularly how to approach work.   And, in thinking it through, and even offering my own meager insights, it occurs to me to be very very angry.   I went deeply and irremediably in debt to fund a fancy education.  I did it because I wanted to be a professional, because I wanted a high-paying job, because I wanted the prestige – all the regular, crummy reasons.  But beyond that, and really more fundamentally than all that, I had been raised to respect education, and educated people, and to think that having that degree was something worth having for its own sake.  Of course, there is all manner of gamesmanship and opportunism and general crumminess, but ultimately one can honorably pursue that goal, and that is something good and redemptive.  So seeking some better life, some meaningful life, I walked into a rent extraction mechanism that is destroying me.  That is, what I thought was true was a fucking lie – my “honorable path” is really just a rip-off.  I was scammed.  We all were scammed – but me, specifically.  I, the guy I live with every day, was played for a fucking sucker, successfully and completely.  We’re not talking abstractions here.

So, what about Obama?  There’s a thread here, just bear with me.  The really galling thing about my failed and miserable life is that my failure was built on my dreams.  That is, my best-willed aspirations were the mechanisms of my own downfall.  These aspirations, mind you, weren’t sleezy.  I have my fair share of sleeziness, but the naive optimistic belief that being well-educated is a good thing is not sleezy at all.  That is, this horrible nightmare system that we’ve inherited from our parents, and which is mutilating us mercilessly, does not get its advantage over me due to my worst qualities, but rather due to my best qualities.  That is why and how this system is so entirely vicious – it appeals to the better angels of our nature, and then uses that appeal to stamp us into mush.

So what about Obama, you ask?  (Yes, you can see it coming, right?)  The appeal to hope and change and all things healthy and kind, just to use that appeal to deliver the believers to his real oligopolic vampire constituency, is Obamaism all over.  The system that takes ideals and standards and makes them into rent-seeking opportunities for psychopaths – that’s my dark reality, but that’s also the 2008 Democratic campaign, and the 2012, and the recent past, and the indefinite future.  A future of bile, resignation, decline, and death.

Well, the other guy is worse

November 8, 2012

As we race headlong toward austerity in the USA (cue Sex Pistols), it may be worth a moment to look back at the Obamabot’s most oft evoked reason for sticking with da man: well, the other guy is worse. The thought process is something like multivariate analysis, sifting through the data at hand to try to find a statistically significant degree of “betterness.”  Sure, Obama has a dreadful record on civil liberties.  Sure, Obama gave Wall Street a free pass after it destroyed the American economy by a fraud-inflated real estate bubble.  Sure, Obama oversaw the further super-consolidation of the banking sector.  Sure, Dodd-Frank is a gilded turd.  But assuming that the other guy is just as bad on those points, where does that leave us?  Wait, Obama said something nice about gay marriage not too long ago.  So, all other stuff being equal, isn’t he better?  Marginal progressivism: both guys are vile, but after canceling out the vileness, one guy has a residuum of betterness.

But does the vileness really cancel out?  Let’s not overlook Obama’s mad skillz. Immediately after our state-sanctioned interaction with the voting machine, Boehner “gives in” and starts talking compromise.  Peter Orszag, in the words of Yves Smith, starts pushing catfood futures hard. The moment is at hand: our Democratic leader is on the cusp of his Nixon goes to China moment.  The Grand Bargain Great Betrayal is nigh. Very soon, many many people who just yesterday were enjoying the dopamine rush of seeing their “progressive” choice in the seat of power will stand mouth agape at the sight of that same choice signing into law the demolition of the New Deal welfare state.   How, exactly, was the other guy going to be worse?

Scraps of dignity

… and, hell even if true: at what point is marginally better not good enough? 10%? 1%? .001%?  Where’s our dignity, that we’re content with such table scraps? When, where, and how do we regain our dignity?

Dopamine’s role in the enjoyment of spectator sports

Besides, I’m not sure there’s really any calculation here anyway.  Tell a friendly, good-willed Obamabot that you’re not supporting da man because, say, his support for the elimination of the ancient right to habeas corpus.  See the puzzled looked, the hurt countenance, the defensive gesture, the grasping for a comeback, and, finally: “but what about the Supreme Court? Abortion, ya know.”  That wasn’t a deeply seated conviction so much as a notion dredged up on the fly in support of an emotional conviction.  Sure, my support for a woman’s right to on-demand abortion is absolute.  But is that conviction really what motivates Obamabots?  If so, shouldn’t they be a bit hesitant about their man, given that he’s actually done precious little to actually uphold reproductive freedom?  But no, my Obamabotic friends are getting a first rate dopamine squirt, as if on November 6 we actually won single payer health care.  Are they really using reason, or is this just the instinctual herd feeling of going with Team Blue?  If the latter, then is there really any superiority in being for Team Blue vs. Team Red?  I’ve always heard progressive types scratching their heads over how, oh how, those benighted working class Republicans can support positions against their own self-interest.  Maybe we should be careful with that kind of talk.  Maybe we’re fools too – turkeys celebrating the cleaver, deer greeting the shotgun.

Team Blue v. Team Red.  Think Yankees v. Red Sox, but with both teams owned by same person.  Or not same person – by the same consortium of private equity funds.  Regardless of the  intense rush I feel from seeing my team hit one over the fence, my feelings have nothing to do with the way the game works.  Or why the game is played the way it is, or what it really means.

Behind the voting machine

I periodically interact with the voting machine, as expected, and enjoy the swirling lights and surprise buzzers if I “win.” Meanwhile, real decisions, the real action, is going on somewhere else, somewhere I cannot see or even fathom.